Design a site like this with
Get started

Can you Solve the Case?

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Cover of the book called The Appeal by Janice Hallett. Cover features a red ribbon tied around a stack of papers. Image is to accompany the book review on the same page.

Someone was murdered.

Someone went to prison.

And everyone’s a suspect.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

The Appeal is a fun, murder-mystery book set in a small town in England. The story centres around an amateur theatre group called ‘The Fairway Players’. The group are rehearsing for their upcoming production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama, ‘All My Sons’. Meanwhile, it is discovered that the two-year-old granddaughter of the Chairman of The Fairway Players has a rare form of brain cancer and urgently requires life-saving medical treatment. The various members of the theatre group rally around the Chairman and his family, starting a charity appeal for little Poppy inclusive of a fundraising ball, a raffle, merchandise and even a yogathon.

But there is another appeal at the heart of this story: a court appeal. At the outset, the reader is presented with a letter from a QC instructing his young protegees to read through the swag of evidence presented before them, consisting largely of a trail of emails between the various members of The Fairway Players. You see, someone has been murdered, someone has been sent to prison and everyone at The Fairway Players is a suspect.

The author, Janice Hallett, wrote The Appeal as a tribute to her many years spent in community theatre. Setting the story around an amateur theatre group is a clever way to bring together a host of characters who otherwise wouldn’t typically interact and provides an almost endless list of suspects. For example:

Martin Hayward, aged 59, Chairperson of The Fairway Players amateur theatre group, joint owner of The Grange Country Club and grandfather to the terminally ill Poppy Reswick.

Isabel Beck, 29, Elderly Care Nurse and amateur dramatic. She’s lonely, fairly socially isolated, has obsessive tendencies and lives for The Fairway Players.

The two newcomers to town, recently returned from many years spent working as volunteer nurses for a medical humanitarian organisation in Africa.

The characters in this book are many and varied and whether they serve as a possible suspect or are included purely for entertainment value, they all contribute to weaving a detailed and enjoyable story. Acknowledging the large cast of characters, the author has included a complete listing of all the members of The Fairway Players which provides a handy character reference for the reader towards the start of the book.

The Appeal is highly original in that there is no narrative to the story. Rather, the story unfolds as a series of emails and messages between the members of the amateur theatre group. Together, this communication trail comprises the evidence presented to two law students by their solicitor mentor for review as he prepares to launch an appeal on a current conviction involving certain members of The Fairway Players. The presentation of all the evidence for the case forms the story and puts the reader in the midst of the investigation, challenged with solving the case alongside the two young articled clerks.

If you are up for some sleuthing with a side of community theatre, you’ll really enjoy this highly original and entertaining novel.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett, Published 2021 by Viper Books, 416 pages

Mystery in the Tasmanian Wilderness

The Bluffs by Kyle Perry

Cover of the book The Bluffs by author Kyle Perry to accompany the book review by The Reading Edit on the same page. Cover image features a rocky outcrop with a misty, rainy sky.

“I won’t walk alone by the mountain trees,
Or the Hungry Man will come for me….”

Four teenage girls go missing on a hiking track during a storm while on a school camp in the Great Western Tiers of Tasmania’s rugged wilderness. Detective Con Badenhorst, recently transferred to Tasmania from his native Sydney, is tasked with solving the case and finding the missing girls. His investigations into the disappearance of the four school girls from the small town of Limestone Creek involve a teenage social media sensation, local drug dealers and the urban legend of the Hungry Man – a bushman allegedly linked to the disappearance of five teenage girls taken from the same bushland in the 1980s (there’s even a creepy school yard rhyme to keep the legend of the Hungry Man alive).

Then the body of one of the girls is found, mauled, at the bottom of a cliff – barefoot and with her shoes placed side by side at the top of the cliff with the laces neatly tied, just like in the legend of the Hungry Man. Detective Badenhorst’s investigations soon lead him to discover that Limestone Creek is a small town where everyone has something to hide and everything is not as it seems.

In his novel, Kyle Perry’s characters challenge the way we see drug dealers as always being the bad guys, or teenage girls as always so innocent and harmless. Kyle Perry has real-life experience in both these areas. In his job as a counsellor and youth worker, Perry has worked extensively across high schools, dealing with at-risk youth as well as a counsellor and case worker in men’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics. He grew up in a small country town, and his childhood was spent in the Tasmanian bush. He still lives in Tasmania today and notes in the introduction to the book that he himself has been lost in the Tasmanian mountains twice, once using pages ripped out of a journal to find his way out. The descriptions of the isolation and beauty of the bush in the Great Western Tiers only adds to the drama and appeal of the story.

Immediately they were enveloped by cider gums, their sap filling the air with a scent like honey, their leaves casting mottled shadows on the undergrowth of ferns and fallen branches.”

The Bluffs, page 396

If you love Jane Harper books, you’ll really enjoy The Bluffs. Like Jane Harper’s murder-mysteries, it features a distinctly Australian setting, the Great Western Tiers of Tasmania. Whilst The Bluffs doesn’t have the pace of a Jane Harper novel, the story unfolds in a way that lends itself to the reader really investing in the characters as well as the setting and builds to an absolute roaring finish that is equally exciting and unsettling.

Published 2020 by Penguin Random House Australia, 418 pages.

Page-turning Australian Murder Mystery

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Cover of the book The Survivors by Jane Harper featuring ocean waves crashing into the wall of a rocky cave. Image to accompany book review on the same page.

Kieran Elliott lives with the guilt of the events that occurred one devastating day twelve years ago, when a once-in-80-year storm hit the small, coastal town of Evelyn Bay. The consequences of decisions made that day were fatal, and the disappearance of a local, fourteen year old girl was never resolved.

When Kieran returns to visit Evelyn Bay with his young family, it is soon apparent that all is not forgotten or forgiven by some of the locals. Then, the body of a young waitress is discovered on the beach. 

For Kieran, the investigation that follows presents questions that can’t be ignored, and revelations that prompt him to reconsider everything he thought he knew about the events that unfolded on the day of the storm. 

The Survivors is the fourth novel from popular Australian crime writer, Jane Harper. Her other books include The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man.  As with these previous novels, The Survivors is an absolute page turner, with plenty of twists along the way. It delivers several interesting, likeable, well-crafted characters and a story that keeps you guessing right from the start.

I love the unique and distinctly Australian landscapes Harper features as the settings for her books. In The Survivors, Harper has captured the rugged beauty of the east coast of Tasmania; a coastline of sunken ships, enormous caves that tunnel through the cliff face, and cold, blue ocean as far as the eye can see. 

Jane Harper offers enjoyable and dependable murder-mysteries and has a real knack for teasing out a story. Whilst the ending wasn’t necessarily predictable, it didn’t come as a complete surprise either. But overall, the rest of the story was so entertaining and the ending still believable that I really didn’t mind.

Published 2020 by Pan Macmillan Australia.